High school students explore veterinary careers.
“Go ahead, touch her paw,” he encouraged. The students were timid at first, inching their way closer to the anesthetized cat, careful to avoid the team working around the examination table. Dr. Carlos Sanchez, who heads the veterinary center, explained what was going on to the three high school students visiting that morning.
The cat’s medical team communicated with each other at every turn, moving quickly as Dr. Rich Sim guided them through a routine preventive exam, cleaning teeth, collecting samples and monitoring the animal’s vitals.
This animal was no ordinary house cat. Kya is a 15-year-old, 304-pound lion who lives at the zoo, and for three students hoping to pursue careers in veterinary sciences, this was the chance of a lifetime.
Thomas Cha, who started college this fall, is a member of Banfield Pet Hospital’s inaugural NextVet internship class. Tryanna Thompson and Kierra Derthick are high school students who spent their summer working alongside Cha and the rest of a veterinary team, as pet care assistants at a local Banfield clinic.
Banfield’s new NextVet program offers students a paid, immersive internship experience aimed at inspiring young people to pursue careers in companion animal medicine.
Fifteen interns – including Thomas – spent the summer working in Banfield hospitals across the U.S. to gain firsthand knowledge about veterinary medicine from hospital teams and industry experts. The program, Banfield says, was established in response to a nationwide shortage of veterinary professionals. One recent study from Mars Veterinary Health estimated nearly 41,000 additional veterinarians will be needed to meet the needs of companion animal healthcare by 2030.
“I realized there is so much to learn in veterinary medicine, especially to be a zoo vet,” said Derthick. “What made me fall even more in love with veterinary medicine was being able to be up close to the lion.”
For Cha, it was exciting to see how many people it took to perform the exam, but the best part was touching the lion. “Her fur was so soft,” he said.
As the team completed Kya’s exam and whisked her back to her habitat before rousing her from slumber, Dr. Sanchez led the students on a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo’s vet center. He shared stories of caring for elephants and chimpanzees while the students hung on his every word. Then he dashed into his office to grab what looked like a large piece of bone, and handed it to them. They passed the object around reverently and he asked, “What do you think that is?”
After a series of guesses, he told them it was a piece of plaque from a rhino. For Derthick, “That was a deciding factor for me pursuing veterinary medicine.
“As soon as I got home, I started researching more about lions and all the animals we saw at the zoo,” she added. “I know this is what I want to do.”
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